Sunday, October 05, 2003

WESLEY CLARK: What to make of Wesley Clark? The guy became the tenth Democratic Presidential candidate and looked pretty good in his first debate. A look at the post-Clark polls showed his immediate competitiveness with front-runner Howard Dean. Clark, a four-star general, was the NATO Supreme Allied Commander in charge of the military campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999. He's also a prominent advocate of diplomacy and multilateralism.

Recently he spoke to Josh Marshall and had the following to say:

The proxy states, Syria, Lebanon, whatever. These states are not -- they need to transform. But, why is it impossible to take an authoritarian regime in the Middle East and see it gradually transform into something democratic, as opposed to going in, knocking it off, ending up with hundreds of billions of dollars of expenses. And killing people. And in the meantime, leaving this real source of the problems -- the states that were our putative allies during the Cold War -- leaving them there. Egypt. Saudi Arabia. Pakistan.
Earlier on, Clark criticized the Bush administration's policy on state-sponsorship of terrorism:
It's the principal strategic mistake behind the administration's policy. If you look at all the states that were named as the principal adversaries, they're on the periphery of international terrorism today. Syria -- OK, supporting Hezbollah and Hamas -- yeah, they're terrorist organizations. They're focused on Israel. They're getting support from Iran. It's wrong. Shouldn't be there. But they're there. What about Saudi Arabia? There's a source of the funding, the source of the ideology, the source of the recruits. What about Pakistan? With thousands of madrassas churning out ideologically-driven foot soldiers for the war on terror. Neither of those are at the front of the military operations.
I would summarize my interpretation of Clark's argument as follows... "Bush is targeting the irrelevant terrorism supporters and we should be focused on the real source of terrorism in the region, like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt. Sure, Iran, Syria and the like are bad, but we can't take them all out. And they don't pose a global threat." And I'd agree with that. Completely. The countries mentioned--Syria, Iran, Lebanon and the like--are not our problem; they're Israel's. Let them deal with it.

But questions still remain and I'm very curious to find out his answers. So what if the Saudis and Pakistanis are our biggest problem, how are you going to deal with them and what kind of diplomatic or militaristic solution are you suggesting? The closer we get to 2004, the more answers (I anticipate) we get.

There's also the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There's this interview from this week's Rolling Stone:
How do you grade the Bush administration's attempt to forge peace between Israel and the Palestinians?

Right now we've got the worst possible regional dynamic, and we've got to change it. You cannot make peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. I don't care if the president of the United States sits there in Gaza and forces the two sides to talk -- they can't. The question of conflict is coming from outside. You've got to get people in the Middle East to say they don't want war. But unfortunately, we seem to want it.

How about the question of Israel. Do you think Ariel Sharon needs to be hemmed in?

Israel has a unique problem. It is beset by nations that want to destroy it. Any nation that is under attack has the right to self-defense. And the right to self-defense is the right to strike pre-emptively to disrupt the threat. Therefore I totally support Israel's effort to go after these terrorists before they can strike Israel. Israel must be willing to participate in negotiations. But if it's going to ever have its chance at the negotiating table, Israel also has to show [its survival doesn't depend on making a deal]. So, the process of building the fence [separating the occupied territories from the rest of the country] is very important. It says to the Arab world, the clock is ticking, we're not prepared to make unlimited concessions, we have our principles and we will fight for them.

But that doesn't mean the U.S. should behave and strike the way Israel does. Two entirely different things. We can make Israel safer by not doing that. We need to bring a council together like we did for the Balkans: Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran. And instead of telling them we're going to nuke them, we've got to give them an incentive to want to participate in preventing conflict in the Middle East. The process has to be driven by optimism and hope, not fear. We will be there for Israel, and they will survive and be a great nation.

What about the Palestinians?

The Palestinians have always been used by the Arabs as a weapon against Israel. The Palestinians are the most educated, most Westernized, most enterprising, least tribal of all the Middle Eastern groups. They were a force for the modernization and economic development in Middle Eastern countries. They were a source of instability and insecurity for the ruling elite. So they were pushed back and not given the rights of citizenship, not given the opportunity to be assimilated. All that's gotta be unwound. They're human beings like everyone else, and they've gotta be given a chance.
Several points to be made here.

His answer to the first question comes over kind of vague to me, but he attributes many of the problems of the conflict from outside forces and to a certain degree that's true, whether it's support for Hamas or interference in the peace-process. But the biggest problem remains: the main problem comes from the conflict itself, the extremists on both sides pulling the strings. And on one side it's Ariel Sharon and Likud. On the other side it's Yasser Arafat, who's convinced the world that his puppet (Mahmoud Abbas) worked independently. And those are the people to deal with. And that leads to the second question.

He supports the extremist (Sharon); he supports the apartheid wall; and supports Israel's pre-emptive strikes (which have showed to work against Israel and to be inefficient). There's my fundamental agreement. I'm convinced a solution is to be found at the negotiating table and not through violence.

Than he makes the point, on which I agree, that Palestinians are being used as a propaganda weapon against Israel. But it's sad that he has to remind people that the Palestinians "are human beings like everyone else" and that they deserve a chance. He'd have a very short career if he suggested the same thing about other groups like, say, Jews, if you will.

All by all, he still has to answer many questions. I'm not endorsing anyone yet, but I will continue to cover Clark and the rest of the relevant candidates over the coming months.

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